North Idaho gives winter sport enthusiasts every opportunity to experience Idaho’s winter beauty at developed ski resorts and a network of groomed trails.
Downhill skiers and boarders can challenge Idaho’s legendary powder at Silver Mountain Resort (home of the world’s longest single stage gondola) in Kellogg. Silver Mountain added a tubing hill in 2006 and indoor water park in 2008 that are popular with the whole family.
Ski or Board
Schweitzer Mountain Resort, one of the premier winter resorts in the Northwest overlooking the town of Sandpoint and Lake Pend Oreille, is famous for its massive bowls and breathtaking views.
Lookout Pass Ski Area (the best learning hill in the Northwest and a phenomenal value for beginners) is on the Montana-Idaho border near Wallace. Its ‘sack lunch’ style and home-town hospitality make this the local area family favorite.
Cross country skiing is a great way to enjoy the beautiful outdoors at a leisurely pace. A wide variety of terrain awaits, including a well-maintained trail system at Farragut State Park. A catalog of Nordic trails is available from the Idaho State Department of Parks & Recreation. Call (208) 769-1511.
The Centennial Trail, which runs from the east end of Lake Coeur d’Alene to Spokane, through Post Falls is a favorite for local enthusiasts.
Over 8 miles of trails are ready for exploration at Schweitzer Mountain Resort who also hosts two fun Nordic races annually – the Cougar Gulch 10K/5K and the Great Scott 10k/5k.
Each winter the Priest Lake Golf Course becomes The Nordic Sports Center at Priest Lake offering some of the finest groomed trails in the area.
The State Parks Annual Passport is $10 for Idaho residents and $40 for nonresidents (plus tax) and is good for day use at all of Idaho’s state parks. Cross country skiing at Priest Lake, Round Lake, Farragut and Winchester Lake state parks is offered at no additional charge. Passes are available at any state park or locally at 2750 Kathleen Avenue, Coeur d’Alene.
The Park N’ Ski Pass is $25 (plus tax) and allows you to park and ski at 11 back country sites across the state. Passes can be purchased at regional offices of the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, as well as most cross country ski shops statewide.
North Idaho College’s Outdoor Pursuits program offers ski, snowboard, snowshoe and mountaineering equipment for rent.
North Idaho has the snow and terrain to create a snowmobiler’s paradise. Snowmobiling is one of the area’s fastest growing sports. SnoWest Magazine recognized The Silver Valley’s thousands of miles of snowmobile trails as “one of the best full service snowmobiling hot spots in the world.”
Boundary County has ample snowmobiling opportunities. There are many well-groomed trails higher than 7,000 feet. The two major areas include Roman Nose in the Selkirk Mountains and Canuck Basin in the Purcell Mountains. www.bonnersferrychamber.com. Visitors to Schweitzer Mountain Resort in Sandpoint can enjoy guided snowmobile tours through the back country. www.schweitzer.com.
Kellogg has thousands of miles of groomed trails with a vast choice of lodging and tourist services. Adventure Sport Rentals offers snowmobile delivery to and resort packages at Silver Mountain. (208) 714-4660 or www.adventuresportrentals.com.
Wallace encourages driving snowmobiles inside the city limits and has a number of annual snowmobile events. (208)753-7151 or www.wallaceidahochamber.com.
Seventy-five miles north of Coeur d’Alene at Priest Lake find an additional 400 miles of groomed trails. Trails are mostly on forest service roads ranging in elevation from 2,500 to 6,500 feet. Ample snowfall and marked and patrolled trails along one of the world’s most pristine lakes make this a winter wonderland. (208) 443-3191 or www.priestlake.org.
A history of timber and mining in the Coeur d’Alene area has left an extensive network of trails through the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. www.idahowinter.org.
Snowmobiling regulations and trail maps are available from U.S. Forest Service offices throughout the region. Machine and equipment rentals are available locally. With the eminent success of snowmobiling projects throughout North Idaho, here’s a recommendation: Make plans for your visit before the rest of the world gets here!
Strapping on a pair of snow shoes and making first tracks in fresh snow on a sunny winter day is as good as it gets for North Idaho outdoor recreation.
If you’re a novice or enjoying an outing with younger family members, the Centennial Trail is ideal. Park at the trail head on Northwest Blvd. at I-90 Exit 11 in Coeur d’Alene and hike a flat trail along the Spokane River, through Coeur d’Alene City Park along the lake. Another popular route begins at Silver Beach on Lake Coeur d’Alene Road, I-90 Exit 15 at Sherman Avenue, with parking, year ‘round rest room facilities and a stunning view with no changes in elevation.
Coeur d’Alene’s Tubbs Hill is a short loop trail (3.2 miles) accessible from downtown that winds through a 120-acre natural park jutting out from the shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene. Start your hike at the south end of 3rd Street by the Coeur d’Alene Resort.
Falls Park in Post Falls is right in town. Exit 5 off of I-90, south a block to 4th Avenue and west two blocks. The park has family friendly trails and scenic overlook platforms to best view the wide open gates of the dam at the Spokane River Falls.
For more advanced snowshoers, the following offer a backcountry hike. The winter wonderland scenery of North Idaho makes it worth your while. Don’t forget to bring a camera!
Gold Hill – 2 miles south of Sandpoint on US 95. turn east on Bottle Bay Road, 4.8 miles to the trailhead located on the right.
Length-3.7 miles one-way
Highest elevation-3400 feet
Elevation gain/loss-1200 feet
Trail to Chimney Rock – a popular climbing destination. Getting to the trailhead in winter may require a 4-wheel drive vehicle. From Sandpoint-north on US 95, 13 miles to Pack River Road, turn west onto Road 231, 16 miles to West Branch Road 2653. Turn left and then a half mile to trailhead at bridge.
Length- 5 miles one way
Difficulty-last 2.5 miles are most difficult
Highest elevation- 6720 feet
Elevation gain/loss 1820 feet
The first 2.5 miles are along an old road, the last 2.5 miles are somewhat steep.
Moose Lake – from Sandpoint head east on Hwy 200 then 12 miles to Trestle Creek Road, turn left onto Road 275 then 16 miles to Lighting Creek Road 419, turn left and then 1.5 miles to Moose Creek Road 1022, turn right and 2 miles to the trailhead. This is also a trailhead for Blacktail Lake Trail 24 and Lake Estelle Trail 36.
Length- 1.6 miles one way
Highest elevation-6160 feet
Depending upon snow conditions, accessibility may be limited to the backcountry areas. There are no restrictions to snowmobiles for both Moose Lake and Chimney Rock.
Sled the Hills
The local sledding hills of yesteryear are still part of the fabric of North Idaho small town life. Some are maintained by local parks departments, some are just part of the neighborhood. For a fun family day in the snow, here are some local favorites:
Coeur d’Alene – Cherry Hill Park is located at 15th Street and I-90. Generations of children have enjoyed this popular sledding hill which is now part of the park. For all ages, paved parking lot adjacent. The Coeur d’Alene Public Golf Course off Ramsey Road has easily accessible hills perfect for families with little ones.
Post Falls – Black Bay Park, just north of the main parking lot off of E. Third Ave., has good sledding hills in the winter months.
Kellogg – Locals and visitors enjoy sledding and tubing at Silver Mountain’s Snow Tubing Park (ticket price includes gondola ride and tube rental) and at Kellogg City Park, across from the football field.
Sandpoint – Schweitzer Mountain is a great place to sled or tube. Great Northern Park is a new 7-acre park which is slated to have a sledding hill shaped by the time the snow flies. For the younger children, Hickory Street Park has a small hill.
Priest River – Right in town is a sledding park off of Highways 2 and 57.
Clark Fork – Locals bundle up for sledding at the ball park on the north side of the pond.
Gliding across frozen lakes and ponds on ice skates is postcard perfect in North Idaho, when temperatures are cold enough for long enough to freeze the water to safe depths.
Smaller lakes, such as Fernan at the east end of Sherman Avenue in Coeur d’Alene are the best bet most years. Lakefront homeowners often create a groomed skating area near the public docks. Twin Lakes and Spirit Lake are also likely to freeze solid enough for skating.
In Bonners Ferry, Mirror Lake is similarly swept for skaters, weather permitting, as is Dawson Lake. In Sandpoint, Sand Creek, just below the Cedar Street Bridge, is popular with the locals and near the city beach, a skating area is often cleared for the public.
The Frontier Ice Arena in Coeur d’Alene is the only indoor recreational ice-skating rink in North Idaho. They offer lessons; adult and youth hockey leagues and lessons; and competitive and recreational figure skating. The facility is also available for group and business functions. After damage to the building from heavy snow in 2008, the arena was rebuilt with a larger rink and additional services. 3519 W. Seltice Way. www.frontiericearena.org
Put Another Log on the Fire
In North Idaho, the wood stove is still a staple of keeping warm. Wood burning fireplaces are standard features in the most modest homes and magnificent mansions. Locals know that Tamarack and red fir produce the most heat when burned. Entrepreneurs with a pick-up truck and a chain saw sell firewood by the cord or truckload. Firewood is commonly measured in cords, with a standard cord being tightly piled wood in a stack 4 feet wide and 4 feet high by 8 feet long. A personal use firewood permit from the Idaho Panhandle National Forest costs $20 for cutting up to four cords and $5 for each additional cord. A permit is good for gathering firewood from the time of purchase through March 31 of the following year. So put another log on the fire as winter arrives in beautiful North Idaho.
Holidays In North Idaho
Beginning on Thanksgiving weekend, the Coeur d’Alene Resort lights up the lake with over a million sparkling lights. Throughout the holiday season you can experience America’s largest floating holiday light show on the boardwalk at the resort. Cruise boats take you on Lake Coeur d’Alene to view animated light displays and holiday scenes along the Coeur d’Alene Resort shoreline including a journey to the North Pole to visit Santa himself. Other events include breakfast with Santa, Sunday brunches with Dickens Carolers and Mrs. Claus, Santa Cruises for the young and old, a downtown Christmas lighting ceremony, fireworks shows and lighted parade. www.cdadowntown.com
The Friday following Thanksgiving Day begins Kootenai Medical Center’s fabulous Festival of Trees with four days of events for all ages. The Senior Social, Kids Day, Festival Fashion Show and the sell-out Festival of Trees Gala all revolve around dozens of spectacularly decorated Christmas trees. Held at the Coeur d’Alene Resort, the Festival of Trees is a fund raiser for the KMC Foundation… and the spirit of Christmas is evident throughout the event. (208) 666-TREE
The quaint downtown of Sandpoint is a winter wonderland. Horse-drawn carriages full of holiday shoppers create a Currier and Ives painting come to life. Enjoy a holiday production at the Panida Theater, dine in a cozy restaurant or stroll hand-in-hand down the city sidewalks while snowflakes dance on your nose and eyelashes. Bundle up and enjoy Christmas as it was in yesteryear. www.downtownsandpoint.com.
The first Saturday in December visitors to St. Maries can enjoy games for children, pictures with Santa, hay rides and a lighted Christmas Parade on Main Street with a Holiday Craft Bazaar at the Eagles Lodge. (208) 245-3563 or www.stmarieschamber.org.
Priest River youngsters enjoy the annual Children’s Christmas Party on Main Street. Complete with entertainment, carolers and a visit from Santa, this chamber of commerce sponsored event is guaranteed fun for all! (208) 448-2721.
What Winterfest would be complete without Santa in the Park and a Christmas Tree Lighting? Harrison City Park is filled with holiday spirit the first Sunday of December as revelers celebrate the season. (208) 689-3669.
The crowning of Little Miss and Master Snowflake highlights the Wallace Yuletide Celebration held the first Saturday of December. A Christmas Cookie bake-off, carolers, photos with Santa and the Winter Walk through brightly lit neighborhoods rounds out this festive day. (208) 753-7151.
Every January in the height of winter, Sandpoint cooks up a sure antidote to cabin fever. It’s the Sandpoint Winter Carnival, a long week of pure fun celebrating the best of the snowy season… indoors and out. First launched ‘way back in 1974, it’s how to have fun in winter! A slate of events take place all around town. Schweitzer Lights Up the Night during the Winter Carnival. The mountain is the scene of a continuous party with the annual Torchlight Parade, a fireworks display and a bonfire. After the parade, head over to the City Beach for the annual bonfire at the Beach House. The Taste of Sandpoint brings some of Sandpoint’s finest restaurants all under one roof at the Cedar Street Bridge to showcase their finest taste treats while art, music and drama tantalize your senses. www.sandpoint.org/wintercarnival
Silver Mountain is a great place to celebrate the new year with their spectacular New Years Eve festivities and Torchlight Parade. Ring in the New Year from the top of the mountain and enjoy the fireworks and fun. www.silvermt.com
Many businesses throughout the area offer special promotions during the season, making North Idaho a truly memorable family holiday experience.
The Perfect Christmas Tree
When you live in North Idaho the perfect Christmas tree can be found in your own “backyard” – the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. A permit is required for each tree cut and removed from National Forest Lands. Permits are $5 and a family may purchase up to three tags. Permits are available from Bureau of Land Management or Idaho Panhandle National Forest offices or by mail.
For over thirty-five years the US Pacific Coast Championship Sled Dog Race has been held at Priest Lake. Each year 75 to 100 teams from around the country and as far away as Alaska and Canada gather on the west side of the lake for the competition. (509) 447-5744 or www.InlandEmpireSledDogAssociation.itgo.com